Review: Legacies of the Manhattan Project

Book Cover: Legacies of the Manhattan Project: Reflections on 75 Years of a Nuclear World.A scholarly retrospective that goes beyond the Hanford Site, this second book in the Hanford Histories series explores the myriad impacts that the top-secret government operation has left on the world, from education, health, and the environment to politics and pop culture. The depth and breadth of the collection makes clear that the history of implosion science remains relevant.

In his introduction, Michael Mays, professor of English at WSU Tri-Cities, director of the Hanford History Project, series editor, and editor of this volume, points out that this nearby location is where the plutonium that fueled the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, was produced. “As the following essays attest,” he writes, “the Manhattan Project’s afterlives animate the present in profuse and often urgent ways.”

Mays, in fact, argues that the Manhattan Project “was the most significant event of the twentieth century.” And it’s difficult to disagree after contemplating these eleven chapters illustrated with nearly 30 images. Essays examine the refinement and testing of weapon designs, emergence of more than two dozen teaching reactors for training students during the Cold War, journalists’ and other writers’ accounts of atomic warfare and radiation, contamination in the Columbia River, cancer as a result of nuclear fallout, collective identity regarding radiation exposure, and “atomicalia,” or the material manifestation of the atomic era in relics from children’s toys and comic books to soaps and cure-alls.

Many of the thoroughly researched and annotated academic essays in this book were first presented in 2017 at the Legacies of the Manhattan Project at 75 Years conference in Richland, Wash., situated along the southern edge of the Hanford Site, and provide the kind of complex analysis that only time and extensive scrutiny allows.

Published by WSU Press.

Top image: Image of the book cover.

By Adriana Janovich, Washington State Magazine